Serving authentic Italian fare – it’s a family affair.
Edison bulbs hang from the ceiling, illuminating the timeless white marble bar. Adorned with copper and matte finishes, coupe glasses and an impressive wine collection, Casa Mia Ristorante’s elegant and chic décor could leave any restaurant attendee with the sense that they were sitting at any high end restaurant in the world.
Head chef and family matriarch Luciana Mollica enters the Niagara Falls based restaurant – a determined smile on her face as she lets a quick “buongiorno” out as she heads straight to her domain, her home, her coliseum: her kitchen.
With this, the feeling of the restaurant shifts; a sense of family envelopes the modern-styled establishment and a warmth radiates from the kitchen along with the clanging and shifting of kitchen pots and pans preparing for the rush of the days hungry traffic.
“It’s a love story how it all started,” says Domenic Mollica, the eldest son of the family, one of the owners and operators of Casa Mia and the head of the front of house. “My mother is a phenomenal chef and the whole driving force [behind Casa Mia].
“She is not just a cook – that is for sure,” said Domenic. “She is so dedicated and so consistent we don’t know how she does it.”
Following the family’s immigration in 1968 from Frosinone, Italy, Luciana spent years working in restaurants throughout Niagara Falls; working in the back of house, fine tuning her culinary skills and discovering her knack and talent for the kitchen. This included time spent cooking alongside some of the best chefs in the world at the Skylon Tower, where she became very familiar with fine dining and high volume restaurants.
“We took on any work we could,” said Domenic. “My dad is a stone mason and when we came here, he couldn’t get a job; brick layers were on strike. So we all went to work.”
Casa Mia was born in 1984, over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table, when an opportunity arose at a perfectly located and current standing restaurant that had gone up for sale. Luciana, fondly known by her family as “the energetic optimist” and her husband Gino – remarked as the grounding force – opened the establishment with high goals to evolve the current restaurant into something more. Together, the Mollica family embarked on a journey that had always been an ambition and one close to their hearts – to establish a very local, farm to table restaurant and one that could offer an authentic Italian experience to the locals.
Today, Casa Mia has become famous well past the Niagara border; a favourite amongst tourists and locals alike, the full service fine dining ristorante now proudly displays the internationally recognized Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for their wine services and offerings, and a rare internal combination of a more casual, gastropub style wine bar on one end with a private white table cloth adorned fine dining area on the other – both providing a diverse, seasonally based menu to please any hungry patron.
“We are a highly searched restaurant and we are located in a perfect place: an international city [Niagara Falls], on the brink of Niagara Wine Country, in a historical part of the village – we have so much to offer and it is something people come looking for,” said Domenic.
And though the restaurant has had incredible success for over 25 years, the Mollica’s values of family and respect have remained strongly the same as the day they first opened their doors.
“Same goal, different role,” said Domenic. “We run our business just like a boat – you always have to be ready and no one person is more important than the other.”
This respect extends as well to their finely crafted dishes. Respect for all ingredients is paramount for the Mollica family and this founding principle is the driving force behind every flavourful dish.
The menus are reflective of this: showcasing a combination of Roman Country style cooking tapped in with international flair. All recipes are family based and authentic [crafted by both Luciana and her son and talented chef Claudio], and are always fine-tuned with the seasons in mind and crafted from local, organic and made in house ingredients.
“Everything has its time and its place,” said Domenic. “I hate eating tomatoes in the winter but we love eating tomatoes fresh out of the garden with fresh mozzarella. Soups tend to change, how hearty they are in the winter as compared to the summer; the salads as well. Everything is seasonal always.”
Pan-seared provimi veal chop with truffle infused demi-glace, house cured deli-boards adorned with rich local cheeses, Cortoccio style spaghetti with lobster, shrimp, crab and mussels wrapped and oven baked in parchment paper, house made cannelloni stuffed with spinach and ground veal and topped with their humble and famous tomato sauce and so much more that could make your heart sing.
All ingredients are either sourced locally, when possible, or delivered fresh/frozen straight from Italy; including a selection of their truffles and a variety of mushrooms both of which are key ingredients to a number of their dishes.
Selections of their ingredients are even cultivated closer to home; Casa Mia Farm is located in Niagara on Thorold Stone Road and is a beloved hobby of both Domenic and Gino’s.
“We farm our own tomatoes, beans, hot peppers, onions, garlic, zucchini, all the staples,” said Domenic. “Everything is organic. It’s how the two of us bond.”
Apart from touting the fresh ingredients and incredible skills of his brother Claudio and mother in the kitchen, Domenic remained humble – refusing to brag too much about the incredible food.
“People need to come and experience the food,” said Dominic. “We don’t like to brag but actions speak louder than words.”
Apart from their staple menu, Casa Mia also hosts a number of special menus throughout the week which run in tandem with their weekly events. Their famous Date Night for Two held every Wednesday continues to be a regular favourite, at only $69 dollars a couple and includes a starter, main course and dessert for two.
For a more casual dining experience, Casa Mia also offers a casual bites menu exclusive to their Wine Bar – featuring genuine Italian cuisine and traditional West Coast flare.
“Our goal is stay more local,” said Domenic. “This is why we did the bar; it’s more approachable and there is less of a commitment. There is no need to make a reservation – you can come in and enjoy simply a glass of wine and some cheese at the wine bar without commitment.”
Their Five Dollar Fridays, held between 3-6 p.m., is quickly becoming an after work favourite for employees in the region. A mix and mingle style event, it allows patrons to try a bite of a variety of favourite dishes, with food and drink specials at only five dollars apiece.
“Today, it is all about being social – and this is the perfect pre-dinners, management meetings, casual social gatherings,” said Domenic. “We used to do wine dinners and it was very formal, very structured and very expensive; with the mix and mingle events, we can really present our wines and show our antipasto and let people mix and wander and try more of what we can do.”
“Where in the past we would do these kinds of wine dinners for 12-20 people, now we can have 50, 60 up to 100 people very comfortably,” said Domenic. “It becomes very lively and interactive.”
These mix and mingle events help Casa Mia showcase their extensive and impressive wine list [which almost reads like an exclusive collection due to its variety], as people can try and sample more of a variety than they would traditionally pair with their dinner. Casa Mia offers both a friendly and easy to drink house wine list program and a cellar list for the wine aficionado; combining for an over 700 label strong wine list which can feature over 83 local wineries at one time, again, there is no lack of options.
“There is a price point really for everyone,” said Domenic. “High value is what we strive for. $25-$30 dollars per house wine bottle is an average.”
This strong fusion with Niagara Wine Country even goes a step further than their impressive wine collection; Casa Mia has also crafted their own brand of Casa Mia Wines through their wine and food alliance with local wineries Konzelman, Legends and Reif – whom all produce and make the Casa Mia wines on site for the restaurant.
“We have dedicated vineyards solely for our wines and each year we produce a new vintage,” said Domenic.
The family motto goes as well for their much loved customers who they cater to with the utmost level of service.
“Everyone always likes to say ‘tourist or local tourist or local’ but to us, the whole world has become local,” said Domenic. “Niagara Falls is very special in that way.”
Along with the wine bar and fine dining room, Casa Mia also houses intimate rooms for private corporate events, family functions and celebrations – of which can host between 14- 60 people. Casa Mia also offers restaurant buy outs – ideal for weddings or large scale events – which can accommodate up to 165 people.
For tourists visiting Niagara and not familiar with the outer parts of the city, Casa Mia has made it more than easy to visit their establishment and enjoy an authentic meal while on vacation. For a number of years, visiting customers would have to look up directions on how to get to the restaurant, and Domenic said many were discouraged by the lack of accessibility and the need to drive. Casa Mia has partnered for a number of years with the Fallsview properties in the tourist district of Niagara Falls to offer a complimentary shuttle to hotel guests in order to get them to and from Casa Mia and their hotel with ease.
“Whether you’re a party of two or up to 165, we will transport you right into the restaurant,” said Domenic. “So if you’re at the casino or staying at any of the Fallsview hotels, we will pick you up and take you to and from.”
“This simplifies everything,” said Domenic. “And then if you’re a big group it makes transporting everyone easy. You can have a second glass of wine and enjoy yourself and not worry about getting home. We take care of that for you.”
“We want to offer an experience to people visiting Niagara,” said Domenic. “So when people go back home, they aren’t talking about a franchise or a voucher experience. They are actually being treated as a guest and people love that. We try to make it as local as possible – very much like Niagara-on-the-Lake does – with no franchises; we try to brand it a little better.”
Visit www.casamiaristorante.com to preview their menus, peruse the specials and make your reservation today.